Following Freeware - November 2016 releases page 2
This month you can become a guard in a strange town on a fetch quest, a young squire seeking to achieve knighthood, or an elderly lady trying to save a familiar looking clock tower. You could also experience the afterlife as the spirit guide to the hereafter, or the ghost of young soldier cut down in World War II. Alternatively, you might immerse yourself into the world of text-based adventuring by selecting from the huge list of entries in this year’s Interactive Fiction competition. All these await in this month’s round-up of releases from the freeware scene.
It's World War II and Eastern Europe is under attack from the Russians when a not-very-brave soldier is sent into the streets of an unknown city by his superior. His concerns about cover and protection against the enemy's firepower are ignored, and he is indeed shot dead soon after by a young boy. When his ethereal spirit rises up from his corpse, the man starts wondering about what he got out of this war.
Fallen Soldier is Gertrud Bondesson’s (aka blondbraid) striking attempt to show the utter futility and hopelessness of war. It is presented in beautiful but somber hand-drawn art that shows parts of the war-torn city and a cemetery, in which the soldier wanders around and comments on what he sees there. The accompanying music is a simple piano tune that reminded me a bit of the roaring twenties and doesn't really fit the circumstances our soldier finds himself in. In lieu of voice acting, all spoken text is shown on the screen in small but easily readable type. In the background are the harrowing sounds of war: machine gun fire and explosions. No other sound effects are heard.
The soldier is controlled with the mouse. There is no inventory and you can interact with hotspots simply by clicking on them. Moving the cursor to the top of the screen makes a small menu appear for loading, saving or quitting the game. Fallen Soldier doesn't really contain any puzzles. Instead, as the protagonist wanders through the city streets, he meets some interesting characters (some of them dead and some alive) that make him think more about the choices he made in life. In this way you learn a bit about his past and why he became a soldier. Unfortunately, the game is too short for an in-depth analysis (you can finish it within 15 minutes), but it is certainly a beautiful game that conveys the designer’s thoughts about war very profoundly. The ending is surprising, especially the fact that it implies a sequel. So maybe we will see more of our fallen soldier in the future.
Fallen Soldier can be downloaded from the AGS website.
The 10 Valorous Acts of Algernon the Great
Squire Algernon (Algie to his peers) has almost finished his education: nothing but the accomplishment of ten valorous acts stand between him and knighthood! Unfortunately, he is a bit late and may not have enough time left to achieve all of them, so Algie is in a hurry. He will have to save a king, rescue a damsel in distress, 'restore the balance' (despite having no idea at the start of his quest which balance to restore) and do no less than seven other things to become a knight. And if that is not enough, he has to collect autographs from witnesses to prove that he performed all those tasks.
Shirelindria's The 10 Valorous Acts of Algernon the Great is a cheerful game, presented in third-person mode in a simple cartoonish style. The intro and ending are shown in black line drawings on a white background, while the rest of the game is designed in the same style but filled in with non-gradient colors. The environments Algie peruses include a stream with a bridge over it, a town square with a tavern, a lake, an enormous stable, a forest and a dragon's den. Like the other characters, Algie has enormous eyes in his oversized blond head that dwarfs the rest of his body. During gameplay you will hear no fewer than three different medieval-sounding tunes. There are hardly any sound effects but the ones present are passable, like when Algie picks something up. There are no voices; everything that is said is shown in small but readable letters in a white bar above the inventory at the bottom of the screen.
Only the left mouse button is needed to control Algie. When the cursor moves over a hotspot it changes into a small hand (something that can be manipulated) or a golden arrow pointing to an exit. Items can be selected from the inventory and used by dragging them to the required location. At the top right of the screen is a button with which you can switch off the music or change the tune. Unfortunately, there is no way to save the game. Algie is smart, rude and quite cheeky too – all character traits that come in handy for finishing his tasks. The puzzles are a mix of inventory and conversation problems that are fun to solve, although not hard. You will also find coins scattered throughout, which are needed to complete one or more puzzles. Without spoiling too much, I can say that Algie has an interesting way of interpreting the nature of his tasks and he manages to complete them in quite refreshing and unexpected ways. In between, you can enjoy his witty banter and a small love affair between him and a random mongrel that he comes across. All in all, it makes for a fun little game that is worth your time.
The 10 Valorous Acts of Algernon the Great can be played online at Kongregate.
It is said that when a soul departs the Land of the Living, it becomes a ball of pure energy. The Psychopomp guides the souls to the Guardian of the Hereafter, who protects them on their journey. At least, that is usually the case. In Riaise's winning entry to MAGS’ November 2016 competition (whose theme was "Afterlife"), small bat-like demons have captured the Guardian and are now stealing souls and tormenting them in an infernal machine! It's up to the Psychopomp to restore things to normal.
Psychopomp is presented in third-person view with a simple, clean style. The artwork shows the river running past the forest that lies between the Land of the Living and the Hereafter, as well as some rooms in the castle where the Guardian is kept prisoner. All locations except the Guardian's prison are rather dark, which is to be expected because demons like dark places. The demons, Psychopomp, and the Guardian of the Hereafter move in ways that suit their characters well. In the background, appropriately eerie tunes accompany the gameplay. A few sound effects are also heard, like running water, a glass shattering and the hissing of water thrown onto a fire. There are no words spoken throughout the whole game, and therefore no need even for subtitles.
Players assume the dual roles of Psychopomp and the Guardian at various points, both of whom are controlled with the left mouse button. Depending on how far you have proceeded in the story, there are different ways to switch between characters, which are made clear as you play. Each protagonist can hold only one thing at a time, though if you find there is no need for the item you are carrying, you can put it back and try something else. You can read what the current character is carrying at the top left of the screen, while on the opposite side is a link to Psychopomp's menu. At its normal setting, everything in the game moves at such a slow speed that I found it hardly playable. Luckily you can increase the speed a great deal. Where the game excels is in its interesting puzzles. In order to solve them, Psychopomp and the Guardian need each other's help, as neither has the specific traits required to solve a puzzle on their own. Despite the simple graphics and music, the way the game is designed conveys a surreal, mysterious atmosphere that gives it a certain something special.
Psychopomp can be downloaded from the AGS website.
Save the Clock Tower
As all fans of the 1985 sci-fi movie Back to the Future know, Hill Valley's clock tower was struck by lightning in 1955 and the clock hasn't run since. In Carmel Games' Save the Clock Tower, the nameless lady who is handing out flyers to raise money for the restoration of the tower has some difficulties in the copy shop: she wants to have 200 flyers but doesn't have the 100 US$ to pay for them. So before she can raise money for the clock tower, she first has to raise money for the flyers.
Save the Clock Tower is shown in colorful art done in the skewed style Carmel Games has been using for quite a while now, in which hardly any line is straight or parallel with others. The game depicts Hill Valley in a different and more wacky way than the movie does, but you will still recognize many things. In her quest for money the protagonist visits the diner, the copy shop and some locations on the street, where you will meet some recognizable characters from the movie. A cheerful but annoying piece of music played by a trombone and strings repeats throughout the whole game, but it can be switched off. As usual, the voice acting is excellent. Care has even been taken to make the voices of the movie characters sound like the originals. All spoken text is subtitled in a black bar at the top of the screen. Sound effects like putting things in the inventory, repairing a machine and pressing buttons aren't realistic but are adequate for their purpose.
Save the Clock Tower is played with the mouse, of which only the left button is required. The inventory is located in the lower right corner of the screen, while the lower left corner contains buttons for the menu and a walkthrough. The puzzles are mostly inventory-based, but you also have to repair an ice-making machine by making its pipes run in the right directions, as well as work out the code for a clever lock. The puzzles are a bit harder than usual for a Carmel game (though still not a problem for an experienced adventure gamer), but there aren't many of them, making this is a short game even for this developer. The movie theme, however, gives Save the Clock Tower a bit of extra value that makes it even more fun to play.
Save the Clock Tower can be played online at Kongregate.
Kith: Tales from the Fractured Plateaus - Issue #1: Fetch Quest
As a young guard in the town of Kith, Burb gets all the worst jobs and today is no exception. Woken from pleasant slumber by his superior officer, he is sent on an important mission. The mayor is due to make a speech today, but he has lost his voice again. Burb’s job is to pay a visit to the local witch and get a potion to bring back his vocal talents. But when you live in a town suspended above a dark void, nothing is ever simple. The bridge to the witch’s home is broken, and Burb must find a way to fix it if he is going to get the potion he seeks.
Kith: Tales from the Fractured Plateaus - Issue #1: Fetch Quest starts up a proposed new series from Screwy Lightbulb. The graphics are presented in an isometric view rendered entirely in black and white. Apart from the monochromatic colour scheme, the characters and scenery are rendered realistically, with Burb a well-built young man and the streets paved with irregular cobblestones. That is not to say the town is a normal one however, with those same streets bounded by a chain barrier with a vertiginous drop on the other side. Burb is simply but effectively animated. When in conversation, close-up stills of the other characters are presented, with their expressions suitably matched to the circumstances. A cheery tune written to mimic the style of medieval minstrels plays throughout, accompanied by a never-ending wind blowing from the abyss.
Control is performed through simple left-click. Normally this will cause the protagonist to walk to the spot you clicked on, should that be possible. When you point the cursor at an interactive object or person, a little eye appears next to it, and clicking on it brings up a brief description. If further actions are possible, icons will be attached to this description, such as a speech bubble to indicate conversation, which can be clicked to take that action. Unable to reach the town herself, the witch won’t aid you until you have fixed her bridge. This involves finding a way to distract another guard, and mixing up a potion of your own. The void and the monsters that lurk within it are touched upon within this story, setting things up for future instalments. Despite these indications of a horrific backstory, however, the overall tone of this debut episode is light fantasy.
Kith: Tales from the Fractured Plateaus - Issue #1: Fetch Quest can be downloaded from the developer’s website.
Interactive Fiction Competition 2016
Now in its 22nd year, the annual competition for text adventures shows no signs of stopping. Indeed, it seems to be growing, with an eye-watering 58 entries this time. Entries included improvised vampire slaying, a museum full of small stories, and a tale inspired by the author’s own life. With many available to play directly within a browser, there is less need to go to the trouble of installing interpreters than there has been in the past as well. The entire list of games, with links to download them or play online, can be found at the competition’s website. From the long list on offer, the following three took the top places this year.
Detectiveland by Robin Johnson
The year is 1929 and in New Losago, private investigator Lanson Rose is looking for work. Fortunately he doesn’t need to go far, as three cases are waiting right outside his office door. A liquor supply problem in the city needs dealing with. A wife is looking for her missing scientist husband. A dilapidated old mansion is home to some strange events. Even for a grizzled old hand like Lanson, used to the rough ways of the city, this could prove a full day’s work.
The overall setting of Detectiveland is a noir detective thriller in plain black and white, but presentation is very much tongue-in-cheek. The game does not have a text parser; instead the left side of the screen displays a transcript of the action, presented as if typed by a typewriter with some badly misaligned keys. The right side of the screen is split into sections, including conversations (where appropriate), general actions, the item you are holding and a list of your inventory. Each has buttons appropriate to its respective section to click on, such as a list of topics to discuss. These change depending on information discovered, and what you are holding at the time (which can easily be swapped by clicking on another inventory item). The three cases can be played in any order, or even run simultaneously if desired. Solutions require careful enquiry, diligent searching and use of inventory. Some puzzles also have more than one solution.
Color the Truth by mathbrush
Rosalita Morales, a popular radio personality, has been shot dead. Four people closely associated with her have been called in for questioning: her sister, her partner, her ex and her secretary. Each has their own tale of what happened that day and each had the means and motive to commit the crime. It is up to you to expose the contradictions in their testimonies and, by eliminating the lies, reach the truth of events on that fateful day.
Whilst Color the Truth uses a traditional parser in plain black-on-white text, the vocabulary is limited and the player is given significant guidance. The four suspects have been called to the studio where the murder was committed, each sequestered in a separate room. You move between these rooms, questioning them on topics and taking their statements. When doing the latter, the action switches to that character acting out their movements on the day of the murder. These open up new topics for discussion, returning you to the present when they conclude. The key to the game is linking topics that expose discrepancies in what you have been told. These in turn lead to revised statements and ultimately reveal who the murderer is.
Cactus Blue Motel by Astrid Dalmady
It is the summer after high school and you, Lex and Becky are taking a road trip across the desert. The darkness of night is pierced by a neon sign attracting you to an oasis of sorts in the endless sands, the Cactus Blue Motel. Whilst not the most attractive of resorts, it seems as good a place as any to stop for some rest. But as the night reaches its height, a strange transformation takes place. The Cactus Blue Motel is more than it seems, and the decisions you make here could prove fateful.
This game uses the Twine engine, with light text on a dark blue background and interactions chosen from a list of options or from highlighted words within the descriptive text. The emphasis here is on the storytelling, with puzzles being more about choosing a path to follow than seeking out a right solution. The setting has elements of the fantastical to it, but the narrative itself is very much grounded in the real world. Both the protagonist and the characters she meets feel like well-rounded characters with lives beyond the story being told here. Though I played it through to an ending I found satisfying, the gameplay implies that multiple endings are possible by making different choices along the way.
Other new releases
Not all games are created equal, and freeware games especially come in all shapes and sizes. Not to be overlooked, the following list might also be of interest, though these games may be significantly shorter or less polished, more experimental titles than those detailed above, some perhaps only borderline adventures to begin with.
Three Little Pigs and a Wolf by Kostas Monastiridis – Relive the story in this "remediation" of the classic tale made for the "Narratives in Digital Culture" course at Aalborg University Denmark.
Omnichronic by KaffeBaggel – A pirate is given the ability to travel through time, and must use it to prevent his own murder in this blackly comic tale.
That’s it for this month. Think we’ve missed a gem or want to tell us about your own game? Then pop in to our Adventure forum and tell us about it!
Article written by Stephen Brown and Willem Tjerkstra.